Growing up I was always prompted to do my very best in school, because school was going to take my life far. I remember walking through the halls of William Clark Elementary, one of the first black elementary schools’ west of the Mississippi with banners that said, “Failure is not an option!” Just like many black children, it was ingrained in me how important education was. How my ancestors and even my grandparents never had the opportunity to go to school because they had to go in the fields and work to make extra money for the entire family. I was made to believe that with all the limited access I had in this world as a little black girl, that if I cracked the code of the education system, I could somehow squeeze my way out of the generational curse of hopelessness, poverty and disappear.
Just like Obama being the first black president, me being the first college graduate in my family does not mean too much to me because I am still stuck in the same rut that I was when I was 18 years old. Jobless. Not only jobless, I am being tossed around every which way.
I found out quickly that being a college graduated in this society doesn’t mean much of nothing, especially when you are black. I was made to believe just like many black children that the door of opportunity would open if I went to school but I soon found out that school, coupled with my blackness only got me so far.
College in more ways than one was a safety net for not only me physically, it was a safety net from my reality off what it meant to be a working woman.
Soon after college I was faced with many disappointments. However, one of the main disappointments was my unsuccessful attempts to getting a well-paying job. There is always some type of catch 22. I learned quickly that my unhinged attempts were caused by numerous sources and the most obvious one is my race. There is no skipping that because it is essentially the root of it all. Unlike most black people, I have made a conscious effort to not code switch while I am interacting with my counterparts. I make sure that my hair is presentable but I leave in its natural state. Meaning I do not lay my edges nor do straighten it. Once most employers find out that I am black the nature of the job, interview process and tone changes.
At first glance, I do have a European name, I went to a top Jesuit institution, I have impeccable experience, so I chuckle a bit when I say I often “fool them.”. However, in most cases, when they hear my voice, see my face, those who are white get somewhat confused. I have had potential employers tell me to my face that I didn’t look like my name. I have had potential employers question me on whether I applied for the right job position. I have had potential employers literally try to low ball me on position and pay, all because they could not get pass my physically exterior. And those who didn’t, I was constantly met with implicit racist behavior.
Implicit racism is something that is not often looked at nor is it talked about. It is the huge silent elephant that everyone clearly sees but no one is comfortable to talk about. Implicit racism, is the intangible “Did he just offer me chicken because I’m black or because he thinks I’m hungry?” If I could give a physical description of what implicit racism meant to me it would be the episode of the “Fresh Prince of Bel-air” when Will and Carlton got pulled over by small town white cops as Carlton drove his father’s white law partner’s BMW to the Hampton’s. While Will gave Carlton instructions on what not to do. Carlton, because he was affluent, talked well, dressed well and had plenty of white friends thought that if he simply explained the situation, him and Will would be able to finish their task. However, we all know that wasn’t the case. Carlton and Will was thrown in lock up accused of fitting the description of being car thieves. It wasn’t until Carlton’s father and Will’s uncle the most upstanding Uncle Phil sees them on the news confessing to a crime they didn’t commit that Uncle Phil and his white law partner was able to get them out. At the end of the episode, with emotions still fresh Carlton asked his father, essentially that where the cops doing their jobs? Protect and serve? Because, him and will could possibly be suspicious. Or was it because they were black they were treated so poorly.
I learned that being black doesn’t just go away because you have education. Black people are still faced with obstacles even when they have the education and the skills behind it. One of my favorite scholars known as the father of critical race theory Dr. Derrick Bell once stated “That after jobs hire one or two black people. They might as well put on the help wanted sign that “[No niggas need to apply]”. Dr. Bell work focus heavily on the black experience after the Civil Rights Movement and the work environment. That quote came from one of his many works that were produced in the 1980’s and 90’s. Those same exact thoughts still apply to today’s workforce when regarding black people.
We want not only equality, we want equity as well. Equity is important. It is the piece that my ancestors essentially wanted for us. To have equal status as citizens, education and ultimately wealth. The struggle of equity is something that has existed before we were even thought about. Therefore, our elders push us to get an education, so we can at least have upper hand in this life.
I realize every day, that being educated does not make you less black. There are only hair differences between those who are formally educated and those who are not. Living within the ramifications of a black body there are natural oppositions that are already stacked against you. Even though education is important, it is even more important to prepare the next generation on what it means to be black after college.
Of course, my story isn’t everyone else’s story. However, I want to make sure that the narrative is clear. There really isn’t a thing of pulling yourself up by the bootstrap when you’re in a black body. You are not safe from the everyday ills of society which includes racism. Everything that comes with being black can and will be weaponized against you.
Michelle Fitzgerald is a blogger for CSUITEMUSIC.com
Michelle is based out of St. Louis, Missouri